Dealing with Doubt in the Church

















Poor “Doubting Thomas,” the protagonist (with Jesus of course) of today's Gospel.  St. Thomas the Apostle doubts once and gets saddled with that unfortunate moniker for all of human history. Which seems rather unfair. His friend Peter not only doubted, but denied Jesus at a most crucial moment, and what happened to him? He is called “Prince of the Apostles” and has a basilica named after him in Rome. 

After all, Thomas had more than enough reason to doubt. Jesus come back from the dead? Are you kidding me? Preposterous. His friends, Thomas must thought, were most likely laboring under some mass delusion. Jesus may have picked Thomas for his probing mind, his mental acuity, or his inability to be deceived, so perhaps Thomas was simply more demanding than the others, at least when it came to proof. On the other hand, perhaps Thomas should have believed what so many of his friends, so many witnesses, had told him. I wonder if the rest of the disciples, filled with joy at what they had seen, were annoyed at him. Spoilsport!

But Jesus isn’t annoyed at all. Notice that Jesus doesn’t castigate Thomas, or say, as he did to Peter, “Get behind me, Satan,” when Peter had not understood things completely. No, Jesus begins by saying to the assembled crowd, “Peace be with you."

Then what does he do? Does he scold Thomas? Does he condemn him before the group? Does he cast him out of the community? No, he gives Thomas what he needs in order to believe. Thomas needs physical proof? Jesus will give it to him. “Put your fingers here and see my hands,” he says.  This enables Thomas to proclaim his great profession of faith: "My Lord and my God!"  Then Jesus gently reminds others about the value of faith.

Jesus gives Thomas exactly what he needs to help him with his doubt. Just as Jesus does with the other individuals to whom he appears. Later, at the Breakfast by the Sea, in the Gospel of John, he will meet up with Peter. Jesus knows that Peter needs forgiveness after denying him three times during his Passion. So Jesus gives him the opportunity to reconcile—three times. When he meets the grieving Mary Magdalene at the tomb, she is overcome with sadness, and can’t even recognize him. What does she need? Just to hear her name: “Mary.” And that’s just what he gives her.

The Risen Christ is gentle with doubters, with those who need reconciliation, and with those who are so confused that they cannot see him. Are we? Our church today seems filled with people who, when faced with doubt and sin and confusion, seem to want only to scold, castigate and condemn. But look at the way Jesus deals with doubt. He shows. He forgives. He calls someone’s name. In such gentle ways are people brought to know Jesus.

Image: "Still Doubting," by John Granville Gregory.

James Martin, SJ


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Kang Dole
6 years 6 months ago
I don't like the Gregory painting. I think that the Caravaggio original is one of the most intensely sexual paintings I've seen. Gregory doesn't even show Thomas penetrating the wound.
J Cosgrove
6 years 6 months ago
I have a few comments

1. Church History, especially the New Testament, has a rich tapestry of stories that together form our faith and this is obviously one of them.

2. I have since a little boy particularly liked "Blessed are those who have not seen and yet believe."

3. I know a lot of Peter's but many more Thomas's.
Beth Cioffoletti
6 years 6 months ago
Very cool modern interpretation of the Caravaggio.
David Pasinski
6 years 6 months ago
I wonder who Caravaggio had in mind for the other inquireres... I like their looks in Gregory's version- and that's a handsome e Jesus also.    
Michael Barberi
6 years 6 months ago
Thank you Fr. Martin for reminding us of the love of Christ and the fact that He gives all of us and the Church what is needed to believe and proclaim the truth. 

If Christ gives the Church what is needed to prclaim the truth, why has the Church been unable to develop an intelligible and convincing moral theory in support of Humanae Vitae (HV)? After all, HV does relate to the truth and our salvation in that certain acts are proclaimed as intrinsically evil and the principles of HV are asserted to be Divine law. Given the Thomas story, I can't imagine that Christ would allow the majority of the laity, theologians and many bishops and priests to rely on their erroneous informed consciences (by disagreeing with HV), a conscience JP II in Vertitatis Spendor asserted should be able to grasp the truth because the magisterim proclaims the truth.

Ths answer the Church gives us is that many of the clergy, most theologians and the laity are infected with the evil of the modern world, in particular the diabolicial liberalism of Western secular societies. This is distorting the truth by causing the lens we use to see the truth clouded. It is true that our Western culture has become more liberal and permissive in terms of sexual ehtics. However, I wonder if this is the complete truth of our non-reception of HV as well as other sexual ethical teachings. Many of these Catholics attend weekly Mass, receive the sacraments, pray frequently, strive to live faithful lives and those that are married have children and use contraception in the practice of responsible parenthood for good and just reasons.

I mean no disrepect Fr. Martin, but can you offer us some additional thoughts for reflection. In other words, do we all sin by practicing contraception regardless of the reasons, and are unable to see the truth, but are forgiven through the mercy of God nevertheless because we are invincibly ignorant? 
6 years 6 months ago
Everybody always gets this story wrong. Thomas didn't doubt Jesus. He doubted Peter and the rest of the Apostles (the Church). Stick with me here.

Where was Thomas the first time? It could have been out buying food. The gang had been holed up in the Upper Room since Thursday night-early Friday. By Sunday they would have gobbled up the last of the Seder leftovers (or the meal leftovers if John is right about the dating, as I think he is). Who is going to go out and get food for them? You have Roman soldiers running around asking people who opened the tomb? "Where are His buddies?" So who in this case is going to go out for food?

"I'll go," says Thomas. "If they stop me, I'll tell them I''m my brother." Breaking communion, Maria (4)? No, if it hadn't been for Thomas the Church would have starved in its cradle.

OK, he gets back, and everyone has seen Jesus. Can you imagine everyone talking at once? Now, Jesus didn't look like he does in the paintings. Remember the disciples on the road the Emmaus? Talked and talked and didn't know who He was. The risen Jesus was like but in some way not like the Jesus of a few days before. So everyone is talking at once, trying to explain that. And then, for a capper, someone (Peter, no doubt) hollers, "And he even ate some fish."

At this point Thomas looks at them and says, "All right, where is the rest of the wine?" That's what I would have done. Jesus them comes back a week later to do what? To reaffirm the Church. And, in the process, He gives us who follow much later a shout out (blessed are those who) and Thomas provides the one and only time anyone in the NT calls Jesus God.

 And that's the way it was. Except Thomas' later adventures in India are persistently overlooked these days. But that is another, Syro-Malabar, story.
6 years 6 months ago
Your reflection, Fr. Martin, reminds me of how the former Master General of the Dominicans, Timothy Radcliffe, describes Jesus' approach to public 'sinners' he encountered.  He did not condemn them.  He didn't even reprimand them.  First, he invited them into the circle of his fellowship by eating with them (something forbidden by the laws of institutional Judaism), and then in the context of that relationship - the intimate relationship of breaking bread - he challenged them to change their perspective, to accept His vision of things, a challenge that would radically change their lives.
Jim McCrea
6 years 6 months ago
A Little Unbeliefis not always a bad thing
By Daniel F. Polish  FEBRUARY 2, 2009

Doubt is not a pleasant condition, but certainty is absurd. Doubt requires humility, and if more of us were comfortable with less certainty, we would be better equipped to confront the ideological extremism of totalitarian regimes, zealous religious fundamentalism, terrorist movements, and fanaticism in general.  (Voltaire)

Sometime I like to put sands of doubt into the oyster of my faith.  Brother Cadfael


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